Making Choices That Work

No matter how many books you read or experts you watch or listen to, observing the consequences of past choices is the best way to know yourself, and what will work for you in the future.

Studying outcomes will show you the patterns in your past history, when you acted without thinking, as though you were on automatic pilot. Taking time to reflect on these choices reveals why you did what you did, and that at some level the outcome was what you expected.

Techniques that raise your level of awareness help you to see the past was the result of what you believed about yourself and life in general. This does not mean you condemn yourself, since many beliefs are unconscious: they got imprinted in your brain in early childhood from people who got these beliefs from their forbearers.

Some generational beliefs work, and some will never work, yet they persist because they are what you take for granted as being true, like the sun comes up in the morning. You may recall times when you or someone in your family said, “That’s just the way life/work/love is.”

Admitting You Were Wrong

It takes courage to change beliefs you once believed were true. First, it is an admission you were wrong.  Secondly, you risk failure and criticism, fears that keep you trapped in situations that are harmful to your mental and physical health.

Depending on the level of risk involved, it is easier to justify staying where you are with comments such as, I’m too old to change, maybe it isn’t so bad, or I should be satisfied with what I have.

Seeing yourself as worthy of the best instead of someone who makes the best of a bad situation may also separate you from people who want you to stay the way you were. This is what makes change hard: it can be lonely.

As an example, think about a choice that was difficult for you.  How long did it take for you to decide what to do? Did you notice a war going on inside of you, as though two people were arguing with each other? What did each of them want?

Once you made the choice, was the anxiety so great you reversed the decision? What happened after you chose what was familiar? What did the outcome tell you about your beliefs? If time proved going back to the past led to the same outcome, did you figure out why you repeated this choice?

If you continued to “stay too long at the fair” the suppressed freedom urge may have expressed itself in depression, anxiety, illness or an accident.  If so, did this setback force you to look within to discover the belief that kept you in a prison of your own making?

Maybe you realized you were afraid of going against the beliefs planted in your mind by authority figures that once meant the world to you. Seeing them as flawed human beings was beyond you at the time.

Or perhaps you believed you were not good enough to succeed at what you wanted to do. Like many people, you might have been afraid of the envy that success attracts.  If so, did awareness of these childhood fears set you free to follow your heart?

Flowing Along With What Happens

If you can tolerate the uncertainty that goes with changing beliefs, in time you emerge with a more expansive point of view. From this higher perspective, you respond better to what happens in life.

Right reaction is the supreme art of life, according to Emmet Fox, the late philosopher and spiritual teacher.  In his handbook on spiritual development, The Sermon on the Mount, he says, “You write your own history for tomorrow and next year by the thoughts you entertain today. You mold your own life destiny day by day, entirely by the manner in which you react mentally to experience as it comes.”

The reception you give mentally to what happens determines its effect on you. In my own case, if a person or event upsets me longer than 30 minutes it is usually something inside myself that got activated. Often, this is an old emotional injury that has yet to heal, or a lack of confidence left over from demoralizing encounters with authority figures.

Emotional upheavals are opportunities to examine reactions in the light of today’s consciousness. With your own objective analysis, and professional help, you can make the connection between then and now.

As you change your beliefs your behavior changes, which improves how you relate to yourself and others. This is the essence of emotional and spiritual growth: you die to the old and get born again, and again, and again, all through life.

Being open to what life brings is not easy; in fact, it is terrifying when you lose what you think you can’t live without. Then, you hold on with all your might to what is leaving your life, which prolongs the pain. Later, sometimes much later, you accept the loss as necessary for your growth.

Identification with what you have, how you look, the people you know, and what they think of you fuels resistance. The more you cooperate with the force in your psyche that wants to grow, the more you transcend the ego’s fear of loss. Like a toddler having a temper tantrum, the ego loses its power when you ignore its incessant demand for control.

Listen to the Body

Numbing the feelings was how you survived a stressful environment when you were young, or later in life. You could not live on your own as a child, so you adapted to these stressors. Later in life, you tried other alternatives, but without the feelings to guide you the outcome was always the same.

Knowing what you feel is not the same as being emotional. That unsettling state of mind is usually the result of denying what you feel, and a mind that is distorting reality to fit its biases.

To have a clear mind and a responsive body avoid substances and activities that numb the body and mind. Expose yourself to alternative points of view, since a narrow focus reduces the brain’s plasticity.

After enough time (and enough differs for everyone) you will feel the feelings as they move through your body. Listen to the messages, such as “I am not safe with this person” or “I feel safe here,” and act accordingly.

As you connect with bodily sensations the outer world becomes more vivid: you smell the many scents around you, you see the intense blueness of the sky, you hear the pitch in others’ voices, you taste the vanilla in your ice cream, and you feel the warmth of the hug that embraces your body.

Uniting the mind and body is an ongoing process. With practice, you learn what you want to do, and what you don’t want to do. When you are tired, you rest. When you are sleepy, you go to bed. When a choice feels wrong, you say no.

The Work of Adult Life

The work of adult life is to make choices that work for you. These choices also work for those who care about you, since they want what is best for you.

As Emmet Fox says, “the soul’s integrity is the one and only thing that matters…cost what it will, involve what it may, the integrity of the soul must be preserved; for all other things–conduct, health, prosperity, life itself, follow upon that.”

Healthy choices at home and work depend on you, since change in others’ behavior toward you begins with a change in your own behavior. In that sense, the world is an accurate mirror you can rely on all through life.  It will tell you when your beliefs need an overhaul, and when you are doing just fine.

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area. She is also the author of the bestselling career guide, Work with Passion, How to do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Nancy’s website is

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